Quality and quantity heightens Arc drama
British racing has been falling over itself all year to market Ascot's inaugural Qipco Champions' Day race-card next month as the programme for all seasons.
However, while its opening stock includes the Group One QEII and Champion Stakes, the card, in spite of its lofty aspirations, is still only a pale imitation of the glittering disco-ball of Group Ones that makes up this afternoon's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe meeting.
No fewer than seven championship Group One races over a variety of distances, and for a variety of gender and age groups commanding an elite international entry, combines for the composition of a horseracing menu more appetising than any other on any day anywhere else in the world.
Headlined by what looks a premium quality renewal of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the menu also features the French farewell of supermare Goldikova which is bidding to sign off her domestic career with a remarkable 15th Group One success before her swansong at the Breeders' Cup.
This year's Arc looks as steeped in quality and as difficult to solve as any previous version since its inception in 1920. The race is spearheaded by last year's winner Workforce, attempting to become the first horse to win back-to-back Arcs since Alleged in 1977/'78. Five have subsequently tried and all have failed.
Intriguingly housed in the same stall as last year (8), there are nonetheless a number of factors that mitigate against his chance of a repeat. For a start, the ground will ride considerably quicker than 2010 owing to the unseasonably dry spell. Although Workforce has won a Derby on good/firm ground, he was flown back from Louisville's Breeders' Cup last year without a race on account of the conditions.
In addition, there is no question that the quality of this year's Arc is far more concentrated than last year. And that doesn't even account for the mid-race rough and tumble that scuppered the chance of a few of Workforce's main rivals. Put it this way, Marinous -- a 50/1 shot drawn out wide in 17 -- was beaten just over six lengths. His form figures since then read 06053073.
Add to that the potential ring-rustiness of jockey Ryan Moore (returning from two months off with a serious shoulder injury), and Workforce's disturbing late wayward tendencies at Ascot when last seen in the King George and there must be plenty of doubt about Workforce repeating the dose.
One of the main victims of the scrimmaging in last year's Arc was Sarafina, which, in spite of coming to a practical standstill in the false straight and being checked further in her run up the straight, still managed to find a way to finish third. Her campaign has been geared all year towards compensation but enthusiasm has been tempered somewhat by the fate of her draw in stall 13. Only two horses have been even placed from a double figure draw in the last 10 years and the only occasion a horse has won from a double-figure stall in recent times has been when the ground was soft -- which it certainly won't be this afternoon.
Moreover, although Sarafina won her trial cosily three weeks ago, winners of the Prix Foy curiously have an abysmal record in the Arc itself. Only Sagace completed the double since 1980. Furthermore, the last four-year-old filly to win the Arc was the mighty Urban Sea (later the dam of Sea The Stars).
Ballydoyle fields three, with So You Think the stable-selected. The draw in 14 hasn't been kind to him either and, whilst I'm less afraid of the distance for this year's talking horse -- he has never won over further than a mile and a quarter and didn't get home in the Melbourne Cup -- for a giant horse he will need considerable luck in running in an inevitably hard-fought contest.
Three-year-olds -- which make up half the field today -- have a tremendous record in the race, winning 14 of the last 17 renewals: to the extent that many question the fairness of the weight-for-age allowance. The three €100,000 supplementary entries on Thursday coincidentally were all three year-olds -- Masked Marvel, Meandre and Danedream coming from UK, France and Germany respectively, and all with Group One victories already in the bag.
All in all, with such depth and complexity it has shaped into a fascinating race supported elegantly by Goldikova's domestic farewell. Goldikova will be opposed by July and Haydock Sprint Cup winner Dream Ahead which could have waited to find an easier opportunity and more suitable ground at Ascot's Champions' Day in two weeks. Explaining the rationale, trainer David Simcock simply said: "We wanted to keep him to Group One company."
I wonder amidst the cacophony of a star-encrusted Arc day card if British race-planners are listening.
Sunday Indo Sport